Sky News To the Point

E&OE

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

It’s White Ribbon Day and we are about to speak to the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

A lot to talk about, because not just in that space, but also, a really interesting story online which I want to follow up about Jenny Macklin’s attempts I think it was, a freedom of information search which wasn’t accepted by Mr Porter’s department. I will get his thoughts on that as soon as we have him.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

The family tax benefits legislation still hasn’t gone through –

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You’ve been banging on about this for a long time.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Yeah I have been banging on, in fact we asked the Minister about that modelling the last time he was on To the Point. So this is a really interesting development here today about the freedom of information that has been refused. That legislation is scheduled to go through the parliament. It was supposed to be introduced, I understand, tomorrow.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I would say it was scheduled to go before the parliament rather than go through, because you know what? I’m not sure it’s going through.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Well, I think it hasn’t yet gone to the House of Representatives, I think it will go through the House of Representatives –

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I think that’s true.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

It seems like it’s going –

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

What about the Senate Kristina?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

It will go there and –

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Just to clarify for our viewers, what we are talking about here is $4.8 billion of planned cuts to family payments. Now, I don’t have a problem with that, Kristina probably does, that’s a lefty thing. I see the fiscal imperative of getting the Budget back in shape as valuable. But what I have an issue with here is apparently, a freedom of information request that came from Jenny Macklin I believe, wanting to get the breakdown of how people would be affected by those $4.8 billion in cuts was rejected by the Social Services Department. On what grounds? 100 hours’ worth of work would have been required to pull together all of that. Let’s see what the Minister thinks of that. Christian Porter joins us live from Canberra. Thanks for your company.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Peter, how are you?

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well, take us through this. I mean, rejected by your department, I would of hoped that the department had already done the heavy lifting to understand with 100 hours’ worth of work what $4.8 billion worth of cuts might actually mean to individuals. But apparently not, and not only not, but it won’t release it either, and it won’t do the work because apparently it’s all too time consuming.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Peter, I have to confess I’ve not seen the terms of the request because these are matters which under the FOI Act they are handled at arm’s length and independently by the department but I have been informed by my office that the reason for the decline of the FOI request was the number of man hours that it would have taken the department to put the information together. So look I am just unable to comment on how important the information is either to Jenny Macklin or to the policy itself because I haven’t seen the request. But I will have a look into it. But I must say that it’s not the first time, and this happens with some regularity, that a determination is made by the department, my department in this case, at arm’s length from the Minister, that a request involves such a large amount of time –

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well, just on that, the large amount of time, according to the information that we’ve got, is 100 hours of time to process that. My point is, if you guys need some help we can flick you an intern from here at Sky News to get 100 hours’ worth of processing done. I’d probably do it myself actually if you like, because I think knowing how the $4.8 billion in cuts is broken down for individuals, is worth 100 hours of my time if you need a hand finding those kind of man hours.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

It’s obviously an enormously generous offer, Peter. I wouldn’t want to take away from your present employment. Look, I haven’t seen the actual detail of the request. Now it might be information which the opposition thinks is incredibly important but may not have been as important to the formulation of the policy that it is being claimed it is. Look, I will have a look but these are decisions made at arm’s length by the department.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I can appreciate that, Minister Porter, as someone who has once held several ministerial portfolios and it’s fair to say you are at arm’s length here and probably for good reason. However, when you released these Family Tax Benefits changes, you released, I think it was, four scenarios all of those were best case scenarios. You were on the show here on To the Point around the time of that release and we asked you then when were you going to release the modelling, the full scale of the modelling including impact on families who aren’t going to receive childcare benefits. And we still don’t see that information being released by you, and now we have an FOI that has been refused. So, how can any of us in the community, how can families, and indeed, how can the crossbenchers make a determination about the true impact of these changes if the Government is hanging on to this modelling.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I understand the point Kristina, but we are talking now about 1.6 odd million families in FTB-A and about 1.45 million families in FTB-B. No government undertakes modelling down to the level of individuals or subgroups of tiny numbers of people. So, we do a grouping analysis, but look, again I haven’t seen what the actual request was and how far down it claimed modelling should reasonably go and what was actually being sought. But what we did do was go through a range of cohorts and were quite upfront with those, including cohorts who found the changes more challenging than other cohorts of people.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I mean again, the information we have here from your department’s FOI decision maker says that there have been 85 documents of about 550 pages of material and indeed, that much of it is in excel spreadsheets, that making it apparently harder to release the information. So, you’ve clearly done a fair amount of modelling, perhaps not on every single one of those 1.5 and 1.6 million families. You’ve got a fair amount of information at your disposal, but it’s not available apparently to the opposition or apparently to the crossbenchers or apparently to those families who would like to know how it’s going to, how these changes are going to impact on them. So, in your conversations with the crossbenchers, are you giving them access to this type of information?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

We are being as open with the crossbenchers in every request for information that they make. But again, I understand that the department’s basis for declining, which is a legitimate and often raised basis under the FOI legislation is that the time and effort that would have been taken to undertake the research and modelling or data analysis pursuant to the request is too large. Now, yes some work has been done and some modelling and some data analysis exists on those areas that we considered of prime importance. But this is not, as I understand it at least, a decline to give information that already exists, it’s a decline to undertake a request for modelling from the Opposition. That’s just not that unusual a reason to have these matters declined.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I am still reeling from being rejected as an intern in the Department of Social Services but one final one from me at least –

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

You’re overqualified Peter –

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

One final one from me at least, I’d love to get my hands on the data, but one final one from me on this one, look make no mistake I know what’s going on here. Kristina Keneally knows what is going on here. Labor just wants to unpick this detail so they can try to point out who all the losers are as a result of tough fiscal decisions which are necessary tough fiscal decisions. That’s what their game is here but more away from what they’re playing at, I think it’s a legitimate question though to wonder why this leg work hasn’t already been done by a Government that is choosing to cut nearly five billion dollars in its Social Services. I support the decision but surely you’d want to inform yourselves with this kind of data having already been crunched before making a policy call and as Kristina says, when dealing with Senators, they’re going to want this information, when they’re negotiating, I would of thought.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Look, I feel very comfortable with the information that’s been provided to me by the department, the information that was provided to me by my predecessor or the information that’s gone in to the formulation of the policy. Look, there is nothing that I have ever felt any need to further request but again I just have not seen the request that Labor’s put in. Obviously we’ll have a look at it but that is a decision that goes to the department.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Let me ask you something related but off this FOI request. And that is in relation to the legislation itself and the savings, you know, the approach you seem to be taking is one of, we have to create savings in one area in order to fund expenditure in another area of your portfolio. However, to me that seems a bit odd, it’s like a family saying I’m not going to buy any more milk until I’ve cut my spending on –  

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

(Interjecting)

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

on running shoes.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Can you say milk one more time?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I think we’re running short on time and I want to get to this question Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Sure.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

My point is, it’s like a family saying they don’t want to buy orange juice without cutting their expenditure on running shoes. It makes no sense to me. Why doesn’t government look at expenditure as a whole if you want to create more money for a childcare package, why not look at raising that revenue in some other area of government expenditure, indeed in cutting superannuation, generous superannuation tax benefits? Why does this expenditure increase in your area also have to be reflected in a savings cut in your area?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Well, I think that the short answer to that question Kristina is that my area represents a third of the Federal Budget. So it makes sense to say that as a whole the amount we presently spend on a range of welfare initiatives is at about the limit that we can reasonably expect the taxpayer to bear. So if we want to reprioritise inside the entire envelope of welfare spending then we want to look at one area where we think the targeting, where we think the purpose behind the payments is not as important and reallocate that to another priority. Now of course, the other alternative –

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Isn’t it the case that your portfolio represents such an extensive portion of government expenditure because you’re looking after some of the most vulnerable in the community, why does one vulnerable group have to give up something so another vulnerable group can get something?

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Because you can’t do all the things for all the people, Kristina. I’m happy to answer that question. I mean come on, this is the Labor problem, you take this view that there is an infinite amount of money. Pauline Hanson talked about printing more money, but I didn’t think that the major parties had that view.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Please, don’t be ridiculous – (inaudible)

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I think the point about Family Tax Benefits is on one characterisation of families it goes to families in significant need. On another characterisation, FTB-B comes on top of FTB-A. The B stream is paid per family, the A stream paid per child and the upper echelons of these payments are with A, around ninety-four thousand where a fairly serious taper rate kicks in, for Family Tax Benefit B, around one-hundred thousand. So no one’s suggesting that those families are wealthy, but I don’t know whether they fit perfectly into the characterisation that you’ve just offered. So, to say that all welfare is being applied perfectly to those who are in most need of it, I don’t know whether it is an overwhelmingly perfect analysis, and what we’ve said is that a better allocation of some, and a modest amount in terms of the total of Family Tax Benefits is to reprioritise that to, generally speaking, to the same families but through another mechanism that is better, more efficiently subsidised childcare so that you engender workforce participation. I just think that’s a reasonable thing to do inside a very large envelope of funding which I don’t think anyone seriously suggests could not do with at least some rational restraint.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Well, let’s see whether the crossbenchers agree with you on that. I want to move on because it is White Ribbon Day and I do want to acknowledge that you’ve released some pretty startling research on attitudes in the Australian community regarding domestic violence and that this research is going to shape the national advertising campaign that seeks to reduce violence against women and children. What do you see as the essence that comes out of this research, and what startled you about the research?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I guess it’s startling because the attitudes are wrong, that in a sense they’re the sort of things that we sometimes view as commonplace. So I mean you would have seen that what years of qualitative research where certain scenarios are put to focus groups and they give responses as to their description of the actors in the scenarios. And they involve scenarios of relatively low level violence, but the way in which there is this passive acceptance of violence this minimisation of violence, particularly violence by men on women and girls is quite eye opening. It’s not to suggest that in every instance of low level violence there is a passive acceptance of that low level violence that people will go on to engage in high levels violence, but when you do see high levels of violence that attitude of minimising violence against women and girls is definitely present in all of those cases. So this is about affecting a cultural and attitudinal change particularly in young boys that creates an environment that says to them that it is never okay, or excusable, or should be subject to minimisation to engage in aggressive or violent behaviour to women and to girls.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Can I ask you, Christian Porter, do you think, and you mentioned younger boys in particular, do you think there is a generational problem here to the extent that this is permeating right across the generations? Is it your understanding that this is more, even more if I could put it that way, of a concern amongst generation next than perhaps it has been in years past?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I mean it’s statistically hard to say, but that’s quite possible. What the research shows is that a young boy for instance around the age of ten is heavily open to influence by good and bad and, the research shows, are heavily influenced as you might imagine by media personalities, music stars, sport stars particularly. Fascinatingly and very happily they are also very heavily influenced by their mother. So to the extent that there’s a generational problem, we’re looking at the generation where we want to eradicate and reduce the problem who go onto be fathers and husbands and potentially perpetrators. Of course we’re not saying that all people become perpetrators, but what we want to try and do is really relieve young boys of an attitude that we know exists, which can cause problems for them, and for their partners later in life. Mothers are key to this, fathers are key to this, so it’s an intergenerational problem, but we might as well aim at fixing the attitude in the generation who are about to go on to be fathers and husbands and partners.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Minister, the scale of the problem is again reflected in this report, it makes sobering reading; one in six women experience violence from a partner since the age of fifteen, one woman killed on average each week by a current or former partner. Now it may not be appropriate to make a comparison with terrorism but that’s certainly something our Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, has done in the past. Your venting frustration about this scale of progress in Australian society, in reducing or indeed eliminating domestic violence, I mean when you look at some of these statistics, do you share her frustration?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Look, I think the comparison is not unuseful.  It highlights the severity of the issue in domestic violence, but with something like government responses, particularly federal and military government responses to terrorism they’re a very easy budget to corral, identify and calculate. But if you have a look at domestic violence, this Government’s put together a $100 million dollar package, and as I noted there will be $30 million dollars which we devoted to attitudinal change and an awareness campaign based on this research. But that money is more than any government’s previously put to this quite severe problem. It compares very well internationally but it does sit on top of a whole range of expenditures that sit inside other budgets. Federal budgets, state budgets, I mean this problem was not heavily and appropriately policed anywhere near to the extent it should have been in the 1990s and even into the early 2000s, but now a very large part of police budgets quite properly will be devoted to properly investigating and policing and later prosecuting these issues. I think that if you actually went and engaged in the process, something Pete with your PhD experience you might try, given you’ve got spare time on your hands, and accumulated all that expenditure I think you’d actually find the comparison is a little bit more favourable than people might expect.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well I’ll need to do it myself because there’s no doubt your department won’t help with it. Let me just ask one final question, in your maiden speech you took the opportunity to call to arms on the need to do something about GST equalisation between the states. Since that time, a number of years ago now we’ve seen nought, zero, nothing done in terms of a long term solution to this. There’s been a little bit of money thrown WA’s way, is this less of a concern because of the mining boom coming off or is this an ongoing passion for you about something that needs to be fixed?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

It’s an ongoing passion of mine and I think that you will find by just natural attrition and fairly quickly inside a lag period that the relativities will come closer together because of the end of the construction boom in mining. I will say though, I think it’s a little bit unfair to say a little bit of money was thrown WA’s way and that nought has occurred. You’ll be aware that there was a very large spend for Western Australia infrastructure, which was meant to compensate the state for their very sharp drop in GST share, so five-hundred million dollars to a state is not zero, nought or nothing, but it remains an ongoing passion and concern of mine and it’s not one that I think should be left just to be sorted out by economic trends going forward.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Minister Christian Porter, we’ll let you get on to the rest of your parliamentary day, but thank you on White Ribbon Day for spending time with us on To the Point.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Thanks for your company.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Thanks Kristina, thank you Peter.

(ENDS)